We all know that Mark McGwire broke Major League Baseball's single season homer record in 1998, a standard that had stood since 1961.
But that season he also -- much earlier in the year, of course -- shattered the Cardinals' single season mark which had stood much longer. The Big Cat, Johnny Mize, cranked 43 over the boards during the 1940 season to set the high water mark.
McGwire only had a couple of years to enjoy being the home run king before Barry Bonds came along and passed him by. But, although he held the Cardinals record for years, Mize didn't have much longer to be a Cardinal. Following a fall to 16 homers in 1941 -- although he still hit .317 with 39 doubles and 100 RBIS -- the 29-year-old Mize was traded by the Cardinals to the New York Giants.
Johnny Mize played first base for
the Cardinals from 1936-1941
There is much dispute as to why Mize was dealt. Was it the drop in homers? If it was, the decision was probably regrettable since he bounced back to lead the NL in 1947 and 1948 with 51 and 40 homers, respectively.
But some say there was a more sinister answer.
Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey was a part owner of the club, holding 20 percent of the team's stock. So it stood to reason that by selling Mize to the Giants for Bill Lohrman, Johnny McCarthy and Ken O'Dea plus $50,000, Rickey was to able to pad the team's profits and up his personal payday.
In the days before Stan the Man became a Cardinal, Mize was the team's best and highest profile player. Imagine how much more powerful the Redbirds of the 1940s would have been with Mize at first base instead of Johnny Hopp who hit .258 with three homers the first year after Mize left...
The Cardinals won the NL pennant in 1942, '43, '44 and '46, winning the World Series in all but 1943. But the finished second three years in a row from 1947-49 -- five games back of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, 6.5 back of the Boston Braves in '48 and only one game behind the Dodgers in 1949.